This is one of those films that you’re expected to like. No matter how you feel about the film, you’re just expected to like it. It has the appearance of an Indie yet it’s really not Indie ($15 million dollar budget). There’s not much dialogue (or lots), long open shots and tight close ups, this all means you’re expected to like it.
I don’t mind wide, lingering shots. I don’t mind tight close ups as well. And good dialogue is good dialogue. What I couldn’t do with this film, what I couldn’t do, is exactly what the film wants you to do to enjoy it; I couldn’t invest in the three strands of storyline that come sequentially to you.
Movies, and therefore scripts, generally work by utilising three sections – known as the three act structure. The first sets up who your main protagonist is, what they do and don’t like. The second act puts that person in a situation they don’t like, it drags them down to the point you think they can’t come back. Then we hit the third act (generally the last half-hour in action movies – keep an eye out for it) in which our protagonist turns things around and comes good.
Variations obviously exist (and should be encouraged) but by and large that’s a movie format. The Place Beyond The Pines takes that, almost, to an extreme. It’s not that we have three acts so much as three films, of varying lengths, sequentially. This would be fine, other films have done this. Take Full Metal Jacket where you could see that the first half – the training – could easily be a movie in its own right with the second half – the war – the sequel (this is probably what Hollywood would do with the film these days!).
One of the beauties of Stanley Kubrick’s writing was that the two halves of the film had the same actors in it (bar a couple). We were following someone’s story, we had our protagonists and we saw how they went from training for a war, to being in a war.
In ‘The Pines we don’t get that. For the first 30 or 40 minutes I thought I knew exactly where the film was going, I thought I had it reasonably sussed. There we were following Ryan Goslings character and then, out of nowhere, it flipped on me.
Suddenly I have to reinvest in a completely new character, one who’s been in the movie for just a couple of minutes. Bradley Cooper enters the scene and now we have to get to know him, and part two of the film begins and, whilst the film has been slow running, interjected with some fast pace moments, that’s ok, I can do that.
Now, for the next hour or so, we’re watching quite a different film. Cooper’s character is very different to Gosling’s, the story is moving at a different pace and going in a different direction but this is still ok, just. I say just because within this hour or so we get essentially a mini movie again (so that’s three mini movies within a movie with a mini movie within one of those mini movies…keeping up?).
We then get the caption ’15 years later’ and, guess what, suddenly where seeing part three, act three, movie three, whatever. More new characters, two this time, first we follow Cooper’s son and then it flips that we’re not following him at all but Gosling’s son, then no-one.
If this sounds confusing, I know it does writing it, then I apologise. To give writer and director Derek Cianfrance some credit it’s actually quite easy to follow, very easy in fact, sort of join the dots easy. Having said all that I can easily see why people liked the film, particularly the critics, they love those long lingering shots and moody characters.
The first act of the film is brilliantly done, as a motorcyclist I thought Cianfrance does well to capture the thrill of riding. It’s a shame then that in the final two acts the film drags and doesn’t have the same sort of punch and the interrelationships that are really required to pull this ambitious film off.